Sofia Kenin’s tumble down the rankings in recent years therefore played to her benefit Monday, in a roundabout way, as she stunned seventh-seeded Coco Gauff, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, in an all-American first-round thriller at Wimbledon.
It was Kenin’s first win at a Grand Slam tournament in two years. The 24-year-old captured the Australian Open title in 2020 but has since dropped so far down that she needed to play her way through the qualifying tournament to earn a spot in Wimbledon’s main draw.
The extra matches served Kenin well — she was more patient Monday. Gauff played a riskier game, lunging for bigger shots that earned her 33 winners to Kenin’s 22 but led to 33 unforced errors to Kenin’s 18. She also had five double faults.
“Definitely taking care of my service games,” Gauff, 19, answered when asked what she needs to work on moving forward. “I do think I’m a better server than her, but I think she took care more of the plus-ones and plus-twos a lot better than I did.”
Kenin and Gauff had played just twice before, en route to Kenin’s major championship title and earlier this year in New Zealand. The elder American put that experience to use. Kenin picked on Gauff’s forehand, moving her around the court, and focused on her return game, drilling Gauff’s high-octane serve with matching ferocity.
But those three extra matches — what they represented, not just the practice they provided — might have been her best weapon. To play a qualifying tournament three years after winning a Grand Slam is a humbling thing.
“It gives me a boost to try to prove [people] wrong,” Kenin said. “Of course, when I was higher ranked and everything, people looked at me like I should win. I try to use that as, like, a way of — I knew she’d be a bit more nervous because more pressure’s on her than me. I just tried to use everything I could this match to my advantage.”
Gauff now must move past the disappointment of the loss, just her third in the first round in 16 Grand Slam appearances, before beginning her doubles quest alongside Jessica Pegula. The women’s doubles tournament begins Wednesday.